Today my husband, Sophie (our 11-year-old), Ella (our 10-year-old) and I visited Auschwitz. In the Nazi-occupied region of what is now Poland, Auschwitz and its concentration and extermination camps caused the deaths of more than a million people during World War II.

As we walked I subconsciously started repeating a quote from the Baha’i teachings that I had memorized when I was just a little girl:

The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 286.

Zamani Family

Zamani Family

That quote came to me, I think, because Auschwitz reminded me of what man is capable of—and what’s at stake. When you see this very poignant, horrible lesson in human history it reminds you: let us be alert, because small acts of hatred can quickly lead to unstoppable, horrific things.  

I turned to my two daughters walking with me hand in hand through the camp, looked them in the eyes and said, “We must always stand up to any type of persecution or discrimination, whether bullying or other malicious acts of hatred. We can never be happy, free, useful, or an agent of positive change in the world if we don’t take on this moral and spiritual responsibility.”

Humanity is like a tree, the countries are the different limbs or branches of this tree, and the individual humans are as the fruits and flowers of this tree. So how can we say that if one limb of the tree is suffering, the whole tree doesn’t get compromised? Today Syria, ISIS, and the de-unification of the EU are a few examples of how our tree is being compromised.

In fact, we compromise the peace and security of the inhabitants of our Earth every time we take another step towards disunity. That disunity results in conflict and war. The shooting and bombing of innocent people causes another tumor in the body of humankind. Unless we become unified we will never have security or peace:

Today there is no greater glory for man than that of service in the cause of the Most Great Peace. Peace is light, whereas war is darkness. Peace is life; war is death. Peace is guidance; war is error. Peace is the foundation of God; war is a satanic institution. Peace is the illumination of the world of humanity; war is the destroyer of human foundations. When we consider outcomes in the world of existence, we find that peace and fellowship are factors of upbuilding and betterment, whereas war and strife are the causes of destruction and disintegration. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 123.

auschwitzHow can any of us think that Brexit can affect our financial equilibrium, but the pain and suffering of the refugees hasn’t tipped our social equilibrium? How can any of us not feel the heat and the horror when we see how brutally millions of Jews were gassed or burned in furnaces?  The unspeakable atrocities that happened here at Auschwitz sound a wake-up call to all humanity—we need to grow up and unify, becoming a source of light and not a force of darkness on our planet. 

I don’t partake of partisan politics, but when I hear “Let’s take our country back,” or “Make America great again,” all my conscience hears is “Let’s take the path to divide and separate ourselves from ‘them,’ and not evolve and work together to build bonds of unity for a better world.”  This unquestionably irresponsible attitude can only take us towards a path of more hatred, hostility, war and suffering. Despite all the memes on social media, I don’t know if Adolf Hitler ever actually said “Let’s make Germany great again!” But I do know that the Nazi message before they started the war and built the extermination camps exploited exactly that kind of nationalistic and xenophobic fervor.

At Auschwitz/Birkenau, a memorial plaque reads: “Let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about 1.5 million Jewish men, women, and children…”

As I leave Auschwitz my heart is heavy, and I ask myself if we can reach peace only after more unimaginable horrors like Auschwitz or the genocide of Rwanda or the terrible civil war in Syria, following our old patterns of stubborn, entrenched behavior. Perhaps, instead, we can now learn from those tragedies and embrace a consultative will to become a better version of ourselves. The choice is ours to make. I wish everyone could witness Auschwitz or the Treblinka Death Camp and feel the horror of making the wrong choice! 

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

4 Comments

characters remaining
  • Feb 08, 2017
    I felt you captured the danger of our times powerfully. I will be sharing this article. Thanks!
  • Michele de Valk
    Jul 03, 2016
    Years ago, in 1982, I had the privilege of travelling throughout Europe. One of our historical visits was to Auschwitz. I had read and studied history about WWII and had attended numerous Remembrance Day ceremonies, but had no real understanding of the war until I was in Europe and England. My visit to Auschwitz was the turning point for me in understanding that war.
    Your article brought back memories of my own on my visit to Auschwitz. They are always at the front of my memory bank as the stories and sights I saw there left ...such an incredible impression on me. So as you reflect on the more current horrors that mankind has done to one another, my heart strings are tugged again, and the tears fall down my cheeks.
    My hope is that conversation about these points of history continues and there is hope that mankind will learn from these horrible crimes and search out the Baha'i teachings on unity, which you also shared.
    thank you
    Read more...
  • Christopher Buck
    Jul 02, 2016
    Reflective and forthright article, especially when you quote, critically, the slogan, “Make America great again.” Even though I wrote a book on America ("God & Apple Pie"), your comment inspired this slogan, "Make Earth great." Not a great slogan, of course, but the sentiment is well intended. Yet a precondition to any "greatness" to which a country may aspire is to first put an end to terror, war and persecution. "Never again" echoes again and again. Soon, I hope, that slogan will no longer ring hollow, or contrary to fact, or fall on deaf ears. Thank you for tolling that ...bell of conscience again, giving pause for thought, and occasion for personal resolve.
    Read more...
    • Peter Seery
      Jul 04, 2016
      Very good article. Unfortunately, people are easy to manipulate by politicians especially if they don't think critically about what they hear. Most politicians anywhere seem to make an appeal to nationalism, content in the knowledge that their listeners will accept it without a second thought.